Negotiating Submission

No one can negotiate the past. A person may not like the past. They may wish it was different than it was. They may try to forget about it. They may tell another version of the story. They may want to run far away from it. But they can’t do anything about it. What has happened can’t be changed. History is the record of reality before now, and we can’t bargain to modify a different past for ourselves.

Revisionism, rewriting reality gone by, is a show of unbelief. Unbelief also gets pushy as it incites us to negotiate present realities just as unchangeable as the past. Some things are true just because that’s how they are. The dark unbelief doesn’t care.

One of unbelief’s favorite whipping posts is the truth that Christ is Lord. A person may not like that He is Lord. They may wish it was different. They may try to forget about it. They may tell another version of the story. They may want to run far away from His reign. But they can’t do anything about it. Who is Lord can’t be changed. The world exists under His lordship, past, present, future, east, west, north, south, up, down. We can’t negotiate our submission to Him.

What has happened can’t be changed and a man who refuses to believe the facts is a fool. Who is Lord can’t be changed either, and a man who refuses to believe and obey is out of touch with reality.

He Gets What He Wants

John Calvin wrote that the heart of man produces idols like a factory, like Detroit produces cars: many makes and models that require more work than their worth. You and I were made to worship, and we will supply something or someone to meet that demand.

One of the gods of men that comes off the product line is the god named Attention. He has other names, too: Fame, Recognition, Approval, Popularity. Attention talks about sharing, assuring everyone that there’s enough to go around, but he never seems to actually know when his turn is done.

He’s a fantastic contextualizer. He wears different clothes among junior high girls than professional academics, he works differently at ladies’ Bible studies than in Hollywood. It’s surprising how well he gets around. He sneaks into car leases, prayer requests, hair styles, social media statuses, diets, good grades, bad grades, employment titles, political campaigns, military campaigns, even Bible reading programs.

It’s also surprising how much damage he can cause. From backstabbing whispers to international battles, he starts wars. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” “You covet and cannot obtain” (James 4:1-3). Of course, Attention has siblings, such as his older brother Materialism. But Attention wants more than the thing, he wants people to know that he has the thing, or that he doesn’t. He can get what he wants either way.

Interestingly, James follows up by saying that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:3). Why wouldn’t we ask? Because that gives someone else the attention.

Attention is a mean and expensive idol, with heavy taxes and high repair costs. He steals joy and peace. He splits churches and spouses and friends. He must be toppled, and Christians should fight him by confessing and then by turning from him to serve the living and true God in Christ.

Unafraid of Light

Jesus commanded His disciples, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Good works can’t save, but they are fruit of our salvation and a witness to the world. That said, there may be even a better description than doing good. Christians should be doing truth.

I do not mean that believers should do the truth in contrast to those who merely hear or know the truth, though that is true. I mean that they should do truth rather than do evil.

The apostle John contrasts evil-doers with truth-doers in John 3:19-21. Those who do evil hate the light and don’t come to the light in order to keep their evil covered. Those who come to the light, however, aren’t branded as those who do what is good, but those who do what is true. Why? The express reason is so that they don’t take credit for the good works. That’s how a person can both do good and give God the glory. It is also true, and this is why I bring it up now, that those who do truth have their not good deeds exposed, and they don’t mind. They don’t want to hide anything because sin messes up the fellowship in light.

Christians aren’t perfect, just unafraid of the light. Believers have nothing to cover up; they love the light. The light shows everything, good and bad. There is freedom, not just in forgiveness, but freedom in open fellowship with our Father. Failure to confess presses us toward darkness and fear and isolation, and hides our light under a bushel.

Pouting in the Corner

God possesses many weapons in His judgment arsenal. One of the most dangerous weapons is abandoning wrath, when He gives men over to their sinful desires. Romans 1 documents different groups that love sin so much that God confirms their sinful loves, maintaining their trajectory to destruction. The danger not only relates to the certain end of destruction, but to their blindness, a deceived heart that thinks its getting what it wants.

Christians thank God for any and all interruptions, interventions, convictions, and arrests of conscience. Our Father’s love doesn’t let us get away with lesser loves. His grace doesn’t let us get away with being satisfied in separation.

Sin seeks satisfaction apart from God in broken cisterns that can hold no water. Sin breaks fellowship with the only One who is good for us. He doesn’t let His own pout in the corner. He pulls the lonely out of isolation, even if that’s sometimes a painful process.

Be thankful for conviction. Be thankful for His Spirit that uncovers sin, that pulls sin out at the roots, that pokes at pride and self-pity. Be thankful for His Word that pierces and lays bare so that there would be nothing keeping us from Him or each other. Be thankful for His Son who endured separation from the Father so that we could come to the Father. If it leads to confession, a guilty conscience is a good thing.

Welcomed Back

What is the point of confessing sin? Why is it so important?

The point of confession is not primarily to confirm our understanding of the rules, not primarily to agree with God’s righteous requirements. His law is perfect, His commandments pure, His rules true. We acknowledge the standard and submit to His authority when we confess our sins. But confession is not mostly a test of our ability to define righteousness with exactitude.

Nor is the point of confession primarily to express sorrow over our disobedience. Blessed are those who mourn; there is a godly grief that produces a repentance that leads to salvation. But confession is not mostly a time for God to rub our noses in our mess to make us feel extra bad on top of the pain already in our consciences.

So what is the point? Confession gets us back into fellowship.

Sin disrupts relationships, both up and down (with God) and around (with each other). Unrighteousness separates. So disobedience breaks fellowship. We don’t confess to ratify that we were walking in darkness. We don’t confess to apply dark lipstick to our guilt. We confess to be cleansed and restored.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6–7 ESV)

John goes on to say that nobody can claim sinlessness, and that means we all get out of fellowship. So what do we do? We confess our sins and He is faithful to forgive us. He doesn’t forgive us by yelling at us from across a long room with His faced turned the other direction. He forgives so that we are welcomed back with Him so that our joy may be complete.

Confess Them All

“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NAS). The death of God’s Son on the cross makes forgiveness possible, His sacrifice means that condemned men can be cleared of charges and cleansed of unrighteousness. Because God gave His only Son, there are two types of sin that can be forgiven when they are confessed.

First, no sin is too sinful, no sin is too large to be forgiven. Why? Because no sin is bigger than God’s Son. Christ is more valuable to God than your sin is offensive to God. Arguing that He can’t forgive your deepest sin suggests you can dig a bigger hole than you deserve credit for. No sin of yours can eclipse God’s Son.

The second type of sin that should be confessed is the small (to our mind) kind, and it’s the same reason: God gave His only Son. Any disobedience, no matter how modest, offends His infinite majesty and requires forgiveness. The cost for mini-sins is the same as massive ones. God cares about the small ones because He cares that Jesus died for those, too. No sin of yours can hide in the shadows.

Lest tender consciences get consumed with confessional bookkeeping, sweating over every line item, remember my first point. No sin is too big nor are there too many, big and small added together. The key is to confess them all. Because God gave His only Son, what can be neither too big or too small? Sins we must confess, sins that His blood covers and cleanses.

What Is a Ditch?

Truth lovers love truth and, therefore, they love words and definitions and sentences that carry the truth. Lovers of truth who collect and arrange words can get themselves into trouble with all their word play, defining themselves right off the road of obedience. Religious people are the best, or worst as it were, at finding ambiguity in a cup of dirt.

Once upon a time, a lawyer put Jesus to the test, asking Him how to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25ff). Jesus answered his question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied with a recitation of the first and second greatest commandments and Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this and live.”

Remember the lawyer’s reply? “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” Self-defense often starts by calling the unabridged edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as a witness.

Getting good with words can lead in two directions: north or south. Words can aim us the right way, straight and swift to forgiveness or they can send us on back road detours away from fellowship with God and others. We should be thankful lawyers don’t make GPS units.

We can’t avoid vocabulary ditches by going nowhere. Staying in the same place is not an option because words bring truth and truth leads to life so, the good life requires good words. But we must always be careful not to rally words in any way that justifies our disobedience. If you ever ask, “And what is a ditch?” you can be sure that you’re in one.

Confessional Finger Pointing

It is usually easier to see how much more someone else needs forgiveness than we do. Everyone needs a Savior, we say, and that’s especially true for everyone else. We are really glad for this regularly scheduled confession because Lord knows how much that guy over there needs it.

There are at least two errors with confessional finger pointing, not equally obvious but equally problematic. On the surface, it’s obviously a problem because humility does not mean counting the sin of others as more significant than our own. The deeper, less obvious error is that, in some sense, the sin of others is our sin, too.

Let me illustrate. If my left leg is broken, my right leg may desire treatment and healing for the left leg, but it cannot do so from a disconnected or patronizing perspective. When one part suffers, the whole body suffers. In a similar way, when one part sins, the rest of the body can’t separate itself from the effects, including discipline. We usually spank our kids on the rear but it usually isn’t because they sat in the wrong place.

Each of us confess our own individual sins to the Lord. We are also one body, one Bride for the Lord, and a blemish on one part affects His view of the whole because we are connected. In this way, your sin is our sin and mine is ours, so we confess our sins. You and I can wish that the other would be better and quicker at confessing, and we should start by confessing how often we look down on each other from a distance. We’re in this together.

Thankful for Conviction

There is no app to download for any smart phone that proves if a person has been born of the Spirit or is walking in the Spirit. There’s no buzzer, no siren, no spinning light that shows the Spirit’s presence in an individual’s heart. So is it possible to know? Yes.

One signal, not the only one, but one signal of the Spirit’s work is conviction of sin leading to confession. In Ezekiel 36, God promised to send His Spirit and put new spirits within people. One effect of the Spirit’s work is that people will remember their evil ways and their not good deeds and “will loathe [themselves] for [their] iniquities and [their] abominations” (Ezekiel 36:31). In a similar way, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, promised to send the Spirit who, among other things, would convict the world concerning sin (John 16:8).

Without the Spirit there may be misery in sin, but there won’t be conviction of its offensiveness before God. Without the Spirit there won’t be confession of sin to God or others, but rather attempts to hide and rationalize it. Without the Spirit there won’t be acknowledgement of sin, nor any effective impulse to turn from sin. Whole-hearted conviction, open confession, and real repentance are only possible by the Spirit.

He is, after all, the Holy Spirit. His work includes opening our eyes to see sin, stabbing our consciences to loathe sin, and refining our tongues to taste the sweetness of holiness. Our weekly corporate confession depends on the Spirit’s work. If your sin weighs heavily on you and you find relief in confessing it, be thankful for that conviction. That’s a sign that the Spirit has given you life.

One Sign of Being Born

According to the apostle John, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).

In other words, no one stays the same after the new birth. Being born of God is like being raised to life from death, being transferred from darkness to light, being delivered from slavery to freedom, being released from guilt to peace, being cured from blindness to see sin for what it is and hate it. A regenerated man cannot keep on going in the same direction.

Christian, is the change visible in your life? Are you tending the imperishable seed sown by God in your soul? Are you putting away all filthiness so that you may receive the implanted word? Are you watching closely so that the cares of this world don’t choke the word and keep you from being fruitful? As one who is born again, are you practicing righteousness more reliably, loving the brethren better, and confessing your sin more eagerly? By these behaviors it is evident who are the children of God (1 John 3:10).

Though it ought to grow better by grace, our practice of righteousness and love of the brethren isn’t perfect. We do not say we have no sin. We will always be in need of an Advocate. That’s part of the reason for our corporate time of Christian confession: if anyone does sin as God’s child, he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

He caused us to be born again that we might not keep on sinning. But if we do sin, He promises forgiveness and cleansing when we confess our sins. Honest confession itself is one sign of being born of God.